Liver disease is consistently associated with heavy alcohol drinking.
But in a study from Boston University, scientists found that non-heavy alcohol use can still harm liver health.
They showed that non-heavy alcohol use is linked to fibrosis (thickening and scarring of connective tissue) and at-risk nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH).
They also found that several alcohol use patterns and measures, including total weekly alcohol consumption, were linked to strong fibrosis and at-risk NASH among non-heavy alcohol users.
While evidence suggests that the pattern of alcohol consumption may be an important predictor of its health effects, alcohol research frequently focuses on average daily or weekly alcohol consumption, possibly obscuring differences in drinking patterns such as drinking frequency, the usual quantity of alcohol consumed and binge drinking behavior.
These results reinforce the importance of encouraging all patients to reduce alcohol intake as much as possible and to at least adhere to current U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommended limits
More than 2,600 participants from the Framingham Heart Study were administered a clinician-directed questionnaire regarding their alcohol use and offered a vibration-controlled transient elastography (VCTE) to measure their liver for excessive connective tissue build-up.
Not only did the researchers find that non-heavy alcohol use was associated with fibrosis and NASH, but also that multiple alcohol use patterns were responsible for this.
According to the team, these findings have significant implications for counseling patients with and without pre-existing NAFLD, especially as the current American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases guidelines do not make any recommendations regarding non-heavy alcohol use in NAFLD.
In addition, the finding that multiple alcohol use patterns are associated with increased fibrosis and/or at-risk NASH merits further investigation into the importance of how patients use alcohol beyond simply quantifying the total amount of consumption.
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The study was conducted by Michelle T. Long et al and published in the journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology.
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